Have you ever wondered what a horse is trying to say to you, or maybe to another horse? Horses use their body language and vocalizations to communicate with each other and to the people around them. All good horse training requires a thorough understanding of horse behavior and language to achieve successful and caring outcomes. Understanding your horse’s behavior and language will help you relate to your horse in a much more meaningful way and will deepen the bond between you and your horse.
What are Your Horse’s Eyes, Ears, and Facial Expressions Telling You
Look at your horse’s eyes. Paying attention to your horse’s eyes will help you understand how your horse is feeling (eg, alert, sleepy) at any given moment. Keep in mind that a horse’s vision is different from that of a person. For example, horses have a panoramic view of their environment (like a panoramic camera); because they are prey animals in the wild, it is important for them to have a wide view of their surrounding environment. Horses can also have poor depth perception, meaning that they cannot always perceive how deep or shallow something is; what we see as a shallow puddle may look like a bottomless pit to your horse.
- If your horse’s eyes are bright and wide open, this means that your horse is alert and aware of his surroundings.
- Eyes that are open only halfway indicate a sleepy horse.
- If both of your horse’s eyes are shut, your horse is sleeping.
- If only one eye is open, it is possible that something is wrong with the other eye. You may need to call your veterinarian to determine why the other eye is closed.
- Sometimes your horse will move his head in different directions to get a better of view of his surroundings.
Observe how your horse’s ears are positioned. Horses will hold their ears in different ways to pick up different signals from their environment and indicate how they feel about what’s going on around them. Horses can move both their ears at one time, or move them individually.
- Ears that are slightly forward indicate that a horse is relaxed. If your horse’s ears are pricked forward, he may be feeling interested in, or maybe even threatened by, his environment. If his ears indicate that he is feeling threatened, his nostrils will flare and his eyes will widen.
- Ears that are flattened back are a clear sign that your horse is upset. If you are near your horse when you see this, move a safe distance away to protect yourself from injury.
- If one ear is back, then your horse is likely listening to something behind him.
- If your horse’s ears are to the side, that means that he is concentrating yet relaxed.
Watch your horse’s facial expressions. Horses can make a variety of facial expressions in response to their environment. Often, changes in a horse’s facial expression accompany other changes in body language.
- Your horse’s chin and/or mouth will droop when he’s feeling relaxed or sleepy.
- A curl of the upper lip indicates the flehmen response. Although this looks funny to people, the flehmen response is a useful way for horses to interpret unfamiliar scents in their environment. In order to display the flehmen response, your horse will extend his neck, raise his head, inhale, and roll his upper lip back and under itself; your horse’s upper teeth and gums will be exposed when he does this.
- Foals, weanlings (recently weaned from their mother), and submissive yearlings will clack their teeth to make sure that older horses don’t hurt them. They’ll do this by first raising their neck and pushing out their head. They will then curl their upper and lower lips to expose all of their teeth, and repeatedly click their teeth together. You will hear a small clicking noise if your horse does this.
Next time we will discuss: Horse’s Legs, Posture, and Voice